COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) — Penny, Colorado’s youngest giraffe, was expected to undergo surgery at Colorado State University on Monday but, after doing a CT scan, the veterinary team discovered her condition was “far more serious” than originally thought.

Penny was born at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on June 4. Nine days later, she was found in her pen with her legs splayed out underneath her.

X-rays showed she damaged her right rear leg when she splayed, but didn’t dislocate her hip. Since then, Penny has received specialized care around the clock to strengthen her legs and fight infection.

Last week, the veterinary staff put casts on both Penny’s front legs, as well as a longer brace on her front left leg, meant to help with bowing.

(credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

On Sunday, Bob Chastain, president and CEO of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, said Penny was getting around better and seemed to be improving. Penny licked his face and arms and nuzzled against his neck as he spoke.

Despite her “bright” appearance, her white blood cell count had begun to rise again, Chastain said.

Penny was transported to CSU on Monday, where she was expected to have surgery to drain an abscess in her right hind leg, but a CT scan revealed additional problems.

“That abscess is more pervasive in the hip bone area than we thought it would be and, on top of that, there is some indication it has worked its way into the hip joint, the right rear hip joint… and into the abdomen as well. That’s very serious,” Chastain said. There are also signs that point to infection in the bones of at least three of her legs.

“[The] team believes the chronic combination of the abscess, a degenerating femoral head and her need to stand awkwardly over an extended period of time has led to a recent hip dislocation,” officials stated.

“Taken individually, all these things can be treated,” Chastain said. “In humans and in pets they could actually cut the head off that femur bone, put a new one on there.”

Chastain said the procedure has been successful in ponies and in miniature horses, but only one horse over 400 kilograms (880 pounds) has survived — and that horse had three other healthy legs.

“Even if we chose to go down that surgery road… we have to deal with the abscess first,” Chastain explained. “We could still do that procedure… but if we choose to do that, we have two to four weeks before that would completely heal, and then on top of that, then we would do that surgery.”

Chastain said even if the procedure was successful, the replacement joint could fail within two years.

“Once we wait for her to recover from the abscess then all of a sudden we have to do the procedure and Penny could never fully recover or it could take her one to two years before she would start ending up with catastrophic injuries to the other legs,” Chastain said.

Chastain acknowledged it was “not good information” and said the team is currently discussing the best options for Penny.

“You’ve given us your thoughts and prayers, we need those more right now than anything… we appreciate your support,” Chastain said.



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